Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Leading Hope and Optimism

I believe we need the Christmas season because we need to set aside time that is focused on hope and optimism. Watching the news, sadness, mistrust, greed, and violence. This is both overwhelming and depressing. We need a time to remind us of the goodness in human nature and the potential for people to make a positive difference in the world.

As leaders, we have to do our best to make sure that people are motivated, focused, and optimistic about possibilities, even when updates or industry forecasts look bleak. This doesn’t mean we are unrealistic or Pollyanna-ish, but it does mean that we help people concentrate on how we can leave a legacy of kindness, hard work, and service to others.

What can leaders do to lead hope and optimism?

  1. Be optimistic. People watch what you do, how you respond, and your mannerisms. If you are not genuinely optimistic, your people will see right through you.
    Be genuinely and sincerely happy to be at work, happy to have a job, and happy that you get to work with other professionals in an industry that you enjoy. One of the best ways leaders can be optimistic and inspire hope for the future is by focusing on their employees. Meet with employees to discuss their careers, training programs, attending conferences, and increasing responsibilities so that they are eligible for future opportunities.
  1. Don’t complain to your team or your customers. One of the generals I worked for said part of his job was making his job seem worth striving for, but in a way that inspired instead of alienated his troops. He also said his job was to listen to their issues, not have them listen to his, which is good advice. I once watched a highly paid corporate executive telling his team that his vacation was practically ruined because aircraft turbulence meant they didn’t have first class food and beverage service for a portion of the return flight from the Mexican resort. His team rolled their eyes and tried hard to appear sympathetic in obvious disbelief. This vice-president didn’t even notice that he had just alienated most of his team with his self-absorption. Great bosses learn not to complain in front of their people, even when they have something to complain about.
  1. Listen more than you talk. You’ve heard it before, “no one is bored talking about themselves.” If you ask your team members, “How are things going?” be prepared to hear “fine” and “good” and not much else.

    Ask probing, open-ended questions to find out what is really going on.

    Ask questions that inspire answers with substance, such as:

    “What are you working on right now?”
    “Is there anything you think we do here that wastes time?”
    “Can you think of ways we can decrease frustration?”
    “What can we provide that would help you do your job better?”
    “What do you think senior leadership should know?”

    Employees are smarter than many leaders realize and they know when they are wasting time and resources. Likely as not, they are frustrated when their time is wasted on non-productive activities and they are happy with the opportunity to make the workplace better.

  1. Watch for crises. Yes, the holidays are a time of celebration, but for many people who have lost loved ones, are living alone, or may have experienced significant change, it may also be a time of loneliness and sadness. Be mindful of individual situations, and give people a little more attention. Let people know they are valued and show extra appreciation. Managers also need to make sure that employees know that help and friends are available in the event of depression or other issues, even during the busy holidays.
  1. Give the gift of time. Celebrating the holidays means decorating the house, hanging lights, shopping for gifts, attending religious services, and going to parties. This all takes time, which is one of the reasons people also experience stress during the holiday season. Many people feel overwhelmed with everything they feel they need to do. If you can, give people some paid time off. It shows you understand their pressures and helps them alleviate some of the stress.

Leadership is critical creating communities where people love to work, play, and live.

Let’s lead our way into the New Year!


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